I met a friend today, to have a walk in the sunshine and grab a take-out coffee and pretend for a short moment that all was right and normal with the world. Just for an hour we walked around the parkland of Morden Hall, watched ducks, talked random nonsense and felt the sun on our faces. For part of the walk, we found a bench area among some reed beds and felt quite decadent in pausing there for a moment to engage in a little contemplation. The 'new normal,' eh? When such small moments are seen as a treat and indulgence. Maybe that's no bad thing? A re-set to focus upon the value of the small things and to question the necessity or validity of some of the aspects of life that we're missing now.
I mention all this because there is much that we are all missing now - some which we may not fully return to, other aspects which I am sure we will be all too pleased to reclaim. With that in mind, the excerpt I want to share today is indeed relevant - it concerns something that I dearly want to return to. That is, the relaxation of being able to sit in a coffee shop, notebook ready to jot down my thoughts or to meet there with a friend to eat cake and chat about something and nothing. As a nostalgic nod to this pastime, I decided to share an excerpt from my memoir book 'Finding My Way.' Reading it back today, I was again reminded of how much I miss this simple pleasure.
I wonder what simple pleasures others are missing? It would be nice to be able to meet up with friends and family and socialise - chat and laugh together, in both indoor and outdoor venues. I would love to be able to sit on a beach and walk along a cliff path and feel the wind in my hair. I long to get back to regular rehearsals with my local drama group, to be creative together with friends, to have that outlet and challenge of something to work towards. I guess all these things will be truly appreciated when they can at last happen again.
Anyway, to return to today's excerpt. As part of my blog on my website, I decided this year to start sharing some of my writing from my books. The aim is to give a little flavour of me as a writer, beyond the ongoing blog post content. For those interested in how I've widened my writing over time from blogger to author, you might like to check out a recent interview I've given, reflecting upon my journey. So today's showcase formed an early chapter in my memoir. By posting it today, I hope that we can all soon return to the simple activities that it references. Maybe grab yourself a coffee while you read it - and enjoy.
WHAT’S YOUR ADDICTION? (Excerpt from Finding My Way - May 2019)
Go on, we all have them. If we’re totally honest with ourselves: alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, exercise, chocolate, screen time, the need to gossip – the possibilities are endless and I guess the problems only come when the addiction controls you rather than the other way around. After all, we all need to find comfort in something and that way it is easy to form habits that involve one indulgence or another. Humankind is by its nature habitual, innately tuned to follow routines and rituals, even if we like to think that we are all unique individuals following our own un-trodden paths without any ties to conformity. At the end of the day, we share a hive mentality but we don’t have to be shaped by it.
In that, I mean we all have rules to follow, trends that we can buy into if they appeal to us, but we can make our own choices and manage the consequences of the paths we follow by being honest with ourselves. Honest about our addictions and need for quick fixes, honest enough to ask for help when we recognise that these might not be enough to sort the underlying issues and always honest about recognising the good times and the lows and using that knowledge to keep us moving forward. It has taken me a long time to come to this realisation but pretending that everything is okay is just the same as locking a dragon up behind one of those doors. You still know it is there, waiting with its fiery breath and that thought slowly chips away at you.
It is not my intention with this writing to trivialise addiction in any way, sometimes a humorous approach can have that outcome. No, the point of it is to examine the need within us all to find our own support mechanisms. Some of us may resort to more indulgences than others and we may be looking to others when we realise that an indulgent craving has become more of a necessary crutch for each day. It is not for me to judge. It has become apparent that an emerging theme of my writing is that we are all making a journey and we stumble often along the way.
Coffee & Cake – Code for Therapy!
I am completing one of those medical type questionnaires and I think they’re missing something. You know the ones where they try to check out your addictions and give a health baseline? My answers portray a somewhat bland, some might suggest boring response:
Have you ever smoked? – No
Do you / have you ever taken drugs? - Prescription only, a morphine drip after an emergency C-Section for my first child and a couple of puffs of gas and air having my second before I decided that I didn’t like the woozy feeling and gave up on that and agreed to having an epidural despite my fear of needles. (It’s amazing what you can overcome during childbirth.)
How much alcohol do you drink? – Most weeks none; it’s not a usual thing in our house. Lately, if meeting up with friends, a few glasses to get into the spirit of that Friday frolic fever. You know how everyone seems to manage their mundane and stressful working week by putting Friday up on a pedestal all week so that we can glam ourselves up, park our working lives and feel silly for a few carefree hours? Close friends might testify that it has been more than a few glasses on some occasions, but no-one puts the whole truth on these forms do they?
Do you exercise? – Well, I walk the dog when no-one else in the family will and I join in dance routines at my weekly drama group. If the dishwasher is loaded and the TV programmes haven’t caused me to nod off and the stars of passion are neatly aligned, I might have an extra bit of bedroom exercise from time to time.
What’s missing from my questionnaire though is the thing that I am now having to admit to myself is my addiction: coffee and cake.
Along with a proliferation of coffee shops over the last few years, comes the realisation that they are tapping into something. It’s not that everyone has just suddenly developed an unquenchable thirst for coffee – though it is in itself addictive. It is more to do with the fact that we are looking for a little slot of relaxation and, when you find yourself a friendly local coffee spot, a smiling barista with a few minutes to listen to you and make you feel important, this, I have come to realise, is my therapy.
Half an hour on a sofa in a coffee shop with a sweet treat and a latte and I am ready to carry on with my day. Whether I’ve sat alone or to catch up with friends, used the chance to check work emails or to chat with my Mum or pop in for a moment away from the kids to actually talk to my husband (though often we will just sit alongside each other checking out the screens on our phones as we sip coffee) – it’s all a way to recharge batteries and pretend for a moment or two that life has been put on hold. An equivalent slot on a sofa with a therapist would be infinitely more expensive and possibly no better for me.
My coffee time is my ‘me time’ and has become a necessary part of my week – my mindfulness programme. I can make coffee at home and have been known to create perfectly adequate bakes but it isn’t about that, is it? Taking time out, in a little sanctuary of calm, is to step away from the plate spinning that encapsulates my waking hours; a plate for managing an increasingly stressful job, a plate for coordinating kids’ activities, a plate for caring for pets that we were persuaded into buying and now have most responsibility for looking after, a plate for keeping the home running, a plate for being there for friends and family. How many plates is that now? I’m a walking circus act!
This year, I have to admit that my need for ‘coffee therapy’ has certainly increased – possibly to worrying levels. I’ve been joking with friends that I am having a midlife crisis but I think it has just been a significant year. One child has finished university, the other managed to get through GCSEs despite many challenges. We’ve had five months of disruption as we have refurbished the house in an effort to future-proof it, for we see little hope of our kids being able to fly the nest any time soon. My job has taken a new direction too, with more responsibility, more deadlines, more of everything except money and recognition – such seems the accepted norm in the austerity driven work place of the current day. Against this backdrop I am planning celebrations to mark a significant birthday – I intend to be fabulous and fifty, at least for the celebrations, it’s most likely to be downhill after that!
Why one birthday year should be more significant than another is arbitrary. For many, each candle on the cake is just another passing year – one no more meaningful than the next. Many have developed this habit of celebrating the ‘decade birthdays’ more than others and certainly, for the last few years I have not particularly gone overboard on the celebrations. Six years back I spent a memorable birthday night sat alongside my Dad’s hospital bed, following the difficult decision to withdraw medication and wait for him to pass. The fighter that he was meant that he struggled on way past expectations and died 8 days later. So I guess my birthday has been inextricably linked with those events since.
Determined – that was the word he used to describe me in his speech on our wedding day. Determined to pursue a course of action whether he was proved right or wrong in the wisdom of my choices. Well, despite many stumbling blocks along the way, he was proved right that I have been determined enough to stick at my marriage and persevere as a parent – something that comes with no prior qualification or manual.
With no let up on the horizon – mortgage payments to continue for a fair few years, workloads staying heavy, it’s fair to assume that I am going to require coffee therapy for a long time to come. Now, pass me my latte.